It started with a message from an old colleague of mine: “Is there something I can get for my face to make me look less tired on all these Zoom calls lol… something coloured?” Nothing out of the ordinary (I write about beauty after all), but this colleague was a sales executive in his late 20s. A man who, judging by the vague message, probably didn’t even know that such a thing as concealer existed.
Beauty has no doubt come a long way in terms of gender inclusivity, but make-up for men still feels like the last taboo. Especially in the context of simple, everyday products – for instance, a swipe of concealer under the eyes before a morning of video calls.
It’s not that men don’t have a history with make-up, because they do (just look at David Bowie, Mick Jagger and ancient Egyptian pharaohs). It’s more the discourse that surrounds it. When you look at modern beauty brands, make-up for men is often portrayed as expressive and bold (and rightly so). But in the process we’ve somewhat dismissed the idea that boys want in on the “no make-up” make-up zeitgeist as well.
It seems the pandemic, and the associated Zoom culture, has been a real tipping point.
According to US market analytics firm Moz as per Bloomberg, internet searches for “male make-up looks” have increased some 80 per cent this April in comparison to last, with searches like “hiding acne” and “hiding bags under the eyes” among top search terms.
For Danielle Chee, the Skincare Senior Category Manager at e-tailer Adore Beauty, the pandemic-induced male beauty boom is obvious. “The growing number of men interested in improving their grooming habits has been accelerated by the increased amount of time spent at home and in some cases, FOMO from their respective partners indulging in their own beauty routines,” she explained.
“Not to mention the increased amount of time we now all spend waiting to be let in to a Zoom call… we’re staring at our own faces for much longer than we’d like,” Chee added.
It’s a trend that’s also reflected in the market. Take the recently expanded Boy de Chanel product line. Just last month, the French house introduced a concealer stick, eye pencil and a natural-hued, matte nail polish all developed specifically for men. It’s described as a “new approach to men’s style… a complete beauty line for modern, fluid masculinity, at ease with its era.” In essence, the products are understated, simple and designed for the everyday.
Similarly, August 31 marked the global expansion of Mr Porter’s grooming category, including a make-up vertical complete with 34 everyday-adjacent products.
Within the launch was the introduction of War Paint For Men, a male-dedicated make-up and grooming brand that founder Daniel Gray created to “break the stigma that make-up is solely sold for women”.
The fact that it’s all easily accessed online is another selling point – no department store, Mecca or Sephora trip necessary.
This mindset is also one driving US founded male make-up brand Stryx, a streamlined offering that includes cleanser, tinted moisturiser and a concealer so discreet, it could be a ballpoint pen. So far, founder Devir Kahan has secured $1 million in funding and earned shelf space in 2000 CVS stores (the American equivalent of Priceline).
It’s an interesting but also necessary development in relation to gender inclusivity within the beauty industry. Brands like Milk Makeup and Covergirl have been using men in make-up campaigns for years now, but we've only recently begun to see an acknowledgement of all aesthetics – from the loud to the low-key – thanks to social media, YouTubers and the overdue detachment from “traditional” gender norms.
It comes down to dismantling the idea that masculinity and make-up don’t mix.
Because, as Adore Beauty's Chee explains, make-up should cater to everyone in all capacities, whether that’s spot-concealing a blemish or a full face of contour, glitter and liner. “All of our customers deserve access to diversity in the form of brand stories and founders, formats and formulations, right down to aesthetic and the neutrality of these products.”